A Reflection on Parish Revival
It takes a lot of things to have a faith-filled, joyful, and growing parish community. It takes a lot of work from the priest(s), the secretarial team, and the whole congregation, especially the volunteers that give their time and talent to ministries such as music and youth group. I have been reflecting often on things I have observed in many parishes that really demonstrate how different they can be from each other. This post is not a guide on how to have a perfect parish, but rather a reflection on qualities that can help keep the fire alive and burning brightly for the love of Christ and His Church.
True worship by the Congregation: Truly reverent music should make worshipping God the focus. Music should stir the soul to seek God, and help us to encounter Him, praise Him, and give Him glory where it is due. When we are participating in the mass, we should reverently and with joy express our thanksgiving to Christ for his presence in the Holy Eucharist. Compare songs like “They will know we are Christians”, “Gather us In”, and “Lord of the Dance” to a song like “How Great Thou Art” or “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”.
I could go on with examples, but I feel that the Catechism sums up this point quite perfectly: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.” The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: “Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19) “He who sings prays twice.” (CCC1156) This doesn’t mean that songs about us being a congregation are necessarily wrong, but we must keep in mind that there is a time and place for certain songs. Some songs are better for a Worship rally or perhaps in an elementary school classroom.
Availability of the Sacraments: Speaking from experience, parishes where there is genuine emphasis on the importance of the sacraments flourish. If confession is made available to parishioners before most masses, they will be more likely to go. If weekday masses are offered after work hours or at lunch hours, parishioners may be more inclined to go after work or at their lunch hour. I know that it is really up to the priest to when those sacraments are made available, and I am truly grateful when a priest makes time to hear my confessions. Sadly, many will not go out of their way to schedule confession, and many more do not see that it is an important and soul-saving sacrament. This being said, the use of the sacraments should also not lead to the sin of presumption by those who frequent the sacrament, rather the acknowledgement of sinfulness, a need for forgiveness, and true contrition so as to strive to lead a holier life.
Reverence in Gesture: In the presence of Christ, we should acknowledge Him with our mind, heart, soul, and body. We must externalize that and acknowledge His presence. He is our King. He is God. When we kneel, kneel all the way down, right knee down always. Face the tabernacle, where Christ is truly present. Do this when you enter the church, before you sit at the pew, when you pass in front of the tabernacle, and when you leave the church. When we make the sign of the cross, do not sloppily move your hand as if it was dislocated. With intent, touch your head your chest, and then each shoulder. In itself, the sign of the cross is a prayer, and should remind us of the Holy Trinity and of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
If you are able, I recommend that you kneel down and receive the Eucharist on the tongue. Approaching Christ in this way humbles us, as we should be in His presence. While the Church does not demand us to receive the Eucharist on the tongue, it is the norm for the Church, and the Vatican has stated that people must not be discouraged from it. From personal experience I can say that doing so there is potential to receive grace. My encounters with Christ in this way have changed my life and I encourage others to consider giving it a try. Doing these physical gestures helps culture our hearts and minds to focus on what is actually happening during mass, adoration, and even in our own private prayer.
Availability of Resources: Lighthouse media has been a good investment for many parishes. It is perhaps easier for a family to listen to a CD while driving in the car than to commit the time to do a book study, for example. Its easy for people to share CDs with one another and converse about what was heard. Literature readily available at the entrance of the parishes is also helpful. Pamphlets about church teachings have been helpful for me, because they can be given to friends and family members who are curious about the faith.
Catechesis: From the pulpit, to the youth groups, to the Sunday school, to the marriage prep, parishioners need to know the teachings of the church. If the members of the parish don’t know what the church actually teaches, then they are truly being deprived of a solid way of living out the faith. It can result in negligence, abuse of the sacraments, and a self-taught faith that is actually not the faith of the Church. It can also lead to the life of a watered down faith and luke warm Catholics. In Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Catechesi Tradendae, he states that catechesis’ prime motive is to lead people to encounter Christ, and to help them live a truly Christian life. He also states that “the more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church.”
Community: When we are greeted at the parish doors every Sunday, its a nice feeling, but when there is no other investment in who we are in that community, that greeting may just become a routine. Many protestant churches have a fabulous sense of community because members make sure that everyone feels at home and that they belong. That parish community should be like family, where we can support each-other, call each-other to holiness. We should seek to really know who our parish family is, and who its members are. In addition to this, programs that encourage faith building both at the parish and in individual homes are an important way of building community. This could include married couple support groups, family catechesis programs, picnics, and feast day celebrations.
Youth groups: This ties into the subject of community, but I feel that it needs its own section. I’ve seen it before where youth groups start out strong because of NET teams or an introduction to Lifeteen Ministries to parishes. However, as soon as those responsible for starting up the programs must move to another parish or the vision is lost, the youth group falls apart or ends up in a hiatus that never seems to be revived because lack of funds or a coordinator. Unfortunately, some youth groups become only a weekly thing for fun and games and they might say a prayer at the beginning. Youth groups, for many of us, were where we were able to be with other Catholic youth that we could relate to. However while the growth of the community is incredibly important, the greater need is for youth to be encouraged to seek out Christ and to seek Him out with reverent hearts. This can be made possible by giving them opportunities to go to confession with the rest of the youth, encouraging them to pray with and for one another, and to helping them understand the teachings of the church.
Change does not happen overnight, and it can take many different kinds of investments from parishioners, the parish staff, and their diocese to ensure that parishes are able to help its members live out the gospel and grow in love of Christ and to one another. We are the Body of Christ, and we must care for ourselves and each other. It is only by the grace of God, prayer, and willing participation and love of the body of Christ that parishes can truly blossom. There must be a constant focus on Christ, with a ceaseless drive to want to love Him better. There must be orthodoxy. There must be charity. Let us pray for a new revival in parishes worldwide, that our hearts be set aflame with the love of Christ.
Posted on September 29, 2014, in Catechism, Catechism in a Year, Catholic, Catholic Music, Christian Life, Christian Music, Church Corruption and Renewal, Communion, Confession, Conversion, education, eucharist, Evangelization, Extraordinary Form, faith, Mass, Orthodoxy, prayer and tagged catechesi tradendae, Catholic, Catholic Music, congregation, Mass, parish revival. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.